The release (and reaction to) Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 gave me an occasion to talk about game endings and the sorts of narrative cop-outs that arise from them. Now, Mass Effect 3 has had an “extended cut” of its endings, and I’m going to take that as a cue to do an extended cut of talking about narrative choices.
In short, of all of the choices presented in an interactive narrative, the final choice is almost always going to be the weakest choice.
Our local GAME store shut its doors for the last time today. This photo was taken about an hour ago, as disconsolate staff inside were shuffling about and slowly putting things in cartons.
As you see, staff decorated the front window of the store with Rage Faces. The “Troll Face” Rage Face for Commander Shepard on the Mass Effect 3 display stand, and the “Forever Alone” Rage Face plastered all over the store windows.
A number of games feature multiple endings to their narratives. Right off the top of my head, I’ll name four: All three of the Deus Ex games, and Mass Effect 3. These come particularly to mind for a singular gaming conceit: The magic pick-an-ending button.
Regardless of what you’ve done, how you’ve developed and defined your character’s personality, who has lived and died, who you’ve befriended or opposed, you’re presented with three choices right at the end. Press the button (so to speak) and get the ending.
In narrative terms, that’s a cop-out. That isn’t even phoning it in.